Was Giuliana Sgrena Targeted?
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This piece originally appeared on Danny Schechter's blog, News Dissector.
No sooner was CNN's Eason Jordan and the issues he raised about the killing of journalists officially buried by the media than a dramatic new incident forced the issue back into public awareness. His ghost had risen even if his voice remains stilled.
Here we are approaching the second anniversary of the war and Bush was getting such a nice media bounce in the glow of the election coverage. Just yesterday, the Iraq parliament announced it will start work March 16 freedom was so 'on the march,' breathing down the country's privatized future ...
And then, day after day, and even this morning, more violence by those faceless 'insurgents' (that our media never tells us much about) claims more lives. We rarely hear about the daily violence of the occupation in terms of civilians killed or abuses committed.
And now this:
I am sure you have been following it. Journalist Giuliana Srgena, in Iraq for Italy's Il Manifesto newspaper was kidnapped by parties unknown. Her country is mobilized to demand her release. A top intelligence agent finds her and reportedly pays off the kidnappers. She is freed and gets within 600 yards of the airport in Baghdad when her car is shot up300 bullets according to one account by U.S. soldiers. The U.S. offers one version; Srgena another.
Covering it or covering it up?
On Imus this morning, Tony Aspinall of NBC speculates it was a case of 'mistaken identity,' You don't take that road after dark
they were all on cellphones and didn't see the warning shots' he says, adding that he expects no investigation. So much for a network probe. The Washington Post today seems to assume it was a 'mistake' but says there have been many such incidents:
"The deadly shooting of an Italian intelligence officer by U.S. troops at a checkpoint near Baghdad on Friday was one of many incidents in which civilians have been killed by mistake at checkpoints in Iraq, including local police officers, women and children, according to military records, U.S. officials and human rights groups."
How the story is being played overseas
Frank Meagher passes this news on from Paris: "France F2 news last night, following a live telephone interview with Giuliana, [reports] that U.S. military says the fatal check point was manned by rookies that had been in country for only one week." The British press seems focused on the implications for U.S.-Italy relations: news.independent.co.uk
The TurkishPress.com site is reporting:
" the Italians are not taking the incident lightly. According to a report posted on the Corriere della Sera site [news item in Italian], the Italian government is demanding the Department of Justice turn over the names of the soldiers involved in the attack. The shooting could rekindle anti-war sentiment in Italy, where public opinion opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, writes Christiano Corvino for SwissInfo. Italys center-left, which hopes to unseat Berlusconi next year in elections and to weaken his standing at local government polls next month, is campaigning on a platform of withdrawing. Italian newspapers warned the government against a cover-up given Berlusconis cozy relationship with Washington, Media 24 reported yesterday.
Predictably, the corporate media in the United States is in the process of downplaying the fallout from this incident, viewed by many Italians as an attempt to assassinate Giuliana Sgrena. About 100 demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome blocked traffic and one banner read: 'U.S.A., war criminals.'"
Today, Italy is holding a jammed state funeral for slain intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, the man Giuliana called her 'liberator.' Tempers are frayed. Giuliana is operated on to remove shrapnel. She holds a press conference to express her belief that the shooting may have been intentional. Bush phones Berlusconi. The White House dismisses her as a communist. You can't make this up.
Check yesterday's blog for more details.
Laura Flanders of Air America was on the air with a special correspondent in Rome last night who said Italy is on fire with concern from moments of silence at football games to thousands flocking into the street. 10,000 people passed by Rome's Victor Emmanuel monument yesterday to pay respects to Mr. Calipari, whose body lay in state. He says that the American military version of what happened is being criticized across the political spectrum.
Many are saying that there was military antipathy to Giuliana's stories which reported in the use of napalm and prohibited weapons by U.S. troops in Fallujah last November. At the time, no U.S. outlets even reported on this. Last week, Dr. ash-Shaykhli of Iraq's Health Ministry confirmed that U.S. troops used internationally banned weapons including mustard gas, nerve gas and other burning chemicals. Sounds like the kinds of prohibited weapons that Saddam was accused of having.
The trashing of Giuliana has begun
In Italy, media outlets of all stripes supported Giuliana. There was solidarity, a concept few American media types seem to understand. Here in the Fox and blog-infested waters of the U.S.A., consensus seems impossible and polarization is the template. In some quarters, torture by Americans is deemed acceptable and any concerns about the less than stellar job done by 'our troops' is considered heresy, if not treason. Already the victim is being blamed for the crime. A letter to this blog hints at a plot because Al Jazeera had a picture of the Italian agent.
The right-leaning site, Little Green Footballs, predictably tries to discredit Giuliana and anyone who believes her:
"The details of this situation have been described in so many different ways that its very difficult to get a clear picture of what happened and mainstream media has predictably ignored Sgrena's radical anti-war background The inmates of Democratic Underground are beside themselves with glee, of course, accusing our soldiers of murder with no evidence. (But dont forget, they support the troops!)"
Michelle Malkin takes the "word of U.S. troops [rather] than an Italian anti-war journalist['s]."
Even worse, a web site called My Pet Jawa is, without evidence, blaming Giuliana for being a terrorist collaborator: "Suspicion continues to mount (Where? DS) that Giuliana Sgrena, the journalist for the Italian Communist (Wrong) paper Il Manifesto , either faked her own abduction or became an accomplice after the fact with her jihadi captors."
What would Jordan have said?
The debate is on and according to my sources Eason Jordan will not be part of it given [he] accepted a gag rule as part of his buy out. But the blogger who broke the off the record Chatham House rules at the World Economic Forum and outed Jordan's comment is back with a comment that includes what chutzpah wondering what Jordan would have said. Thanks to him, he's been silenced. Here's Rony Abovitz:
"Liberals will now paint the American troops as bloodthirsty devils, while harder right [c]onservatives will say it is all an Italian communist plot and that the U.S. can never do wrong. I wonder what Eason Jordan would say about all of this.
"Here is a thought: take some American kids in their teens and twenties, and arm them to the teeth. Drop them into a hell where at best their Iraqi 'friends' on the ground likely only hate them and wish them death and a speedy trip out of their land (bodybag or otherwise). You are vastly outnumbered, and you have no real idea who is the enemy, because there is no clear front line – in theory you already 'won' the war. You don't understand the language, the customs, and wish every minute you were back home. At any moment you can be blown up by a car bomb, suicide bomber, or be captured and beheaded on a global webcast. You are shot at from all directions. Your own government has not made it clear when all of this mess will end, and simply staying alive, keeping your buddies and platoon brothers alive, matters most. Maybe you believe in the mission, maybe you don't. You do know that being alive matters, and that getting home, if home can ever be returned to after being in that hell, is a high priority.
"Put me in that position and I would open fire on anything that came within a few hundred yards of me. I would take no risk on my safety, or that of my friends. Eat lead and die you scumbags would be my motto. Fear would practically replace any philosophy that drives me now. Raw fear could make me do almost anything, right or wrong. I never want to take that test. To have restraint in Iraq is to almost be superhuman, to put one's own life beneath that of an unknown, unseen enemy. Who among us is that saintly? For a soldier on the ground I can not believe that it ever really is about politics it is about what is happening at that moment, who is coming at me now, and what I must do next. There is You, and there is the Other. If the Other is no Friend, shoot."
Understandable but not excusable
So that's the "let us understand and explain the incident away" rationalization. Any military professional would dismiss it because they believe in honor, discipline, oversight, and command. If the troops are acting like cowboys with a license to kill, then that's a war crime, and inexcusable and yes, it is the military that is to blame for not upholding its own standards and not training these soldiers to uphold the rules of war. Yes, there are rules of war. So, the 'gee they didn't mean it because you would do the same thing in their situation' excuse is not on.
We Have Become "The Other," brother.
Journalists at risk
Tom Fenton, the retired CBS correspondent now criticizing the networks for abandoning international news in the book Bad News , was on CNN yesterday with Howard Kurtz discussing the media situation in Iraq:
Fenton: Well, U.S. troops are the ones who have the big guns. Journalists have always had the risk of being caught in a crossfire. I think there are a couple of things we can say about this story. Two things one, it's extremely hard to report from Iraq. Most of the reporters, most of the journalists don't go out of the hotel. It's worth their life. Even going to a press conference in the green zone is dangerous.
Two, there is a back story also to this Italian journalist. It's pretty widely known that both Italy and France are paying ransoms. That means that every Italian journalist, every French journalist there is a walking target. The going price for a Western say, for an American journalist, particularly a TV correspondent, they're big guns, in Iraq is something like $4 million right now. People get picked up and they get shopped to somebody else who will pay that kind of money ... .
What press-freedom groups are saying
Tom Regan notes in the Christian Science Monitor :
"The Guardian reports that Friday the International Federation of Journalists accused the U.S. government of hiding behind a 'culture of denial' over the deaths of journalists in Iraq, and said the U.S. had to take 'responsibility for its actions.'
"Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists writes that while there is no evidence the U.S. military is targeting journalists, too many journalists are dying 'at the hands of the hands of U.S. soldiers because of negligence or indifference And when journalists are killed, the military often seems unwilling to launch an adequate investigation or take steps to mitigate risk.'
"Mr. Campagna notes that while insurgent violence is the leading cause of death for journalists in Iraq (34 out of 54), U.S. military fire is the second-leading cause of death. At least nine journalists and two media support staff have died as a result of U.S. fire in Iraq in the last 23 months.'"
What has been happening?
Sorry, I have to keep going here because no one in the mainstream seemed to consider Jordan's points worth of investigation. (And by the way I am critical of Jordan and CNN for not investigating the killing of journalists if they knew about them. In that thery were not alone. JeSurgisLac writes:
"A few people have pointed out (Jeanne at Body and Soul for one) that the real scandal is that U.S. soldiers have been killing journalists in Iraq – and no one in the American MSM seems to care very much. I found an In Memoriam page that lists 24 journalists, translators, and cameramen who have died in Iraq:
"To all war correspondents out there, to all those who cover the horror of mankinds cruelty to mankind, maybe one day the horror which you captured may persuade us that war is a barbaric way to solve our differences. An independent journalist who covers war is a peacemaker. The pursuit of truth can bring grim consequences to those who pursue it. Thanks to those who have been killed in their duty of reporting on the truth and to those imprisoned and tortured.
"The 24 names are: Terry Lloyd, Paul Moran, Gaby Rado, Kaveh Golestan, Michael Kelly, Kamaran Abd al-Razaq Muhammad, David Bloom, Julio Anguita Parrado, Christian Liebig, Tariq Ayoub, Taras Protsyuk, Jose Couso, Mario Podesta, Veronica Cabrera, Elizabeth Neuffer, Walid Khalifa Hassan Al-Dulami, Richard Wild, Jeremy Little, Mazin Dana, Mark Fineman, Ahmad Shawkat, Duraid Isa Muhammad, and Ali Abdul Aziz."
Someone named pecunium then writes: "I am going on inside knowledge, I was an NCO in the human intelligence company of V Corps during the war. As such I was privy to information which was not public, and is not readily available to people now."
"I do my best to keep my comments to public sources, but can't always keep my secondary opinions from being colored enough by what I know to come to my conclusions without information most people can't get."
From the CFLCC ROE (RULES OF ENGANGEMENT)
1c. Do not target or strike any of the following except in self-defense to protect yourself, your unit, friendly forces and designated persons or property under your control:
d. Do not fire into civilian populated areas or buildings unless the enemy is using them for military purposes or if neccesary for your self-defense. Minimize collateral damage.
2. The use of force, including deadly force, is authorized to protect the following:
Yourself, your unit and friendly forces
Enemy Prisoners of War
Civilians from crimes that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm, such as murder or rape
Designated civilians and/or property, such as personnel of the Red Cross/Crescent, UN and US/UN supported organizations.
Attack enemy forces and military targets.
Spare civilians and civilian property, if possible.
Conduct yourself with dignity and honor.
Comply with the Law of War. If you see a violation, report it.
"That's extracted from the ROE Card, handed to everyone who was in theater. It has a lot of wiggle room, and that wiggle room is why what was, in effect a bush shot, was deemed legit"
An anti-reporter mentality
And what did this mean for that shell that hit the Palestine Hotel?'
This soldier writes:
"Someone told them the hotel was being used to spot, and they shot it. A tad heavy handed, (and not really useful, without some real intel, there are a number of high points which could have been used to spot for arty, this was no Monte Cassino), but not outside the rules."
"But it does break some of the spirit of the rules, and given the nature of the ROE, and what CentCom, CFLCC and V Corps knew about the hotel, it should have been off limits, without approval from at least brigade, and probably Division ... .
"There is a decided opinion, among both the rank and file, and the command structure, that reporters are out to get troops."
"Look at the reactions to reportage of war crimes the reporters are lambasted, the troops are said to have been reacting to circumstance."
(It should be noted that a number of Giuliana's reports deal with war crimes like reported uses of napalm in Fallujah.)